What is lifestyle medicine?

Today I received confirmation that my fellowship to the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine has been approved: I’m officially a fellow. While it’s a big deal to me, I know it means next to nothing to most people, because most people have never heard of lifestyle medicine! Let’s change that.

Lifestyle medicine is a branch of medicine. It’s not alternative or complementary medicine, it’s just plain old conventional medicine. It bridges the gap between preventative healthcare and treatment of diseases that are impacted by lifestyle choices. Lifestyle medicine professionals help individuals and families to instill healthy behaviours in their lives, so they can prevent, manage and sometimes even reverse chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They help you come up with a personalized plan and that plan may sit alongside things like drugs and surgery.

The six pillars of lifestyle medicine are summed up nicely by Dr. David Katz: feet, forks, fingers, sleep, stress and love.

Feet – physical activity

Forks – good nutrition

Fingers – reduced smoking/alcohol/risky substances

Sleep – sufficient quality sleep

Stress – managing stress

Love – positive social connections

As we slowly gain more understanding of how we are interact with the world around us, I think lifestyle medicine will move beyond these six core pillars. Already, the positive health effects of being in nature, of belonging to a community, of having a sense of purpose, etc., are being uncovered and studied. I view lifestyle medicine as a holistic approach to health. Too often we chop up medicine into different fragments: mental health, heart health, bone health, whatever, and we fail to recognise that each fragment affects the others. The mind and body and the world we inhabit are not as separate as we once thought.

One last point: lifestyle medicine is evidence-based. I got my board certification last year and I can tell you, it’s definitely not a tick-the-box exercise. I had to complete 30 hours of online professional development, 10 hours of in-person professional development, submit a case study, study my ass off and pass a 4-hour exam. Today’s fellowship is a little different. The Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine sums it up thus: “Fellowship represents the highest level of expertise and peer recognition available to health professionals in the field of Lifestyle Medicine.” So fellowship is more about demonstrating what expertise you have and what you have contributed to the field.

Lifestyle medicine continues to grow as a worldwide movement and, as per usual, there are some who try to cash in on it by claiming they practice lifestyle medicine without actually having a qualification to back that up. So if you’re looking for someone to walk beside you in your journey to better health, keep an eye out for people like me, who are board certified and/or are fellows.

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